Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
Passages: Hebrews 12:18-27; Matthew 16:13 -17:17
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
When I first moved to Chicago and began to get acquainted with the Armenian community, one of the things I tried to pay attention to was “what do people want from their priest and Church?” Immediately, for the most part I understood that education and teaching was something a majority of people desired.
As a clergyman apart from sacraments, meetings and lunches, I believe, my most important task is to teach and to enlighten everyone, Christian or not, Armenian or not, about the Armenian Christian faith. Bible studies, home visitations, lectures, sermons, etc. all of these serve as tools to teach everyone who wants to learn. But to teach what? History, music, culture?
Unfortunately, due to whatever circumstances, the most basic and fundamental aspects of our Christian faith are not known to too many of us. Basic fundamentals not about Church history, or about Church administration, not even about Armenian culture but rather, our most sincere understanding of who is Jesus Christ? Who Jesus Christ is, is our faith. Something we each need to know to our core. This misunderstanding, due to either apathy or the lack of resources to be taught, for many of us and people in the world, has created in our minds a false perception of God the Son. In seminary, one of my professors and great Orthodox thinkers of the current times Fr. John Behr, would remind us that, oftentimes when people describe the God they believe or don’t believe in, it is in fact not the God, not the Jesus that we as Orthodox Christian’s believe in.
This may upset some people but Jesus is not Armenian; Jesus is not a anglo-saxon or European; Jesus is not a Middle Eastern, 1st century Palestinian Jew; Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Word in the Flesh. Regardless of our iconography or culturalization of Christ Jesus, we cannot forget that Jesus Christ is ultimately God and not merely some healer, or teacher, or prophet.
If you ever have the opportunity to go to Jerusalem and visit Nazareth and the Church of Annunciation, you will find beautiful mosaics of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus. These mosaics are done by different cultures and people, and they have Jesus according to their traditions. The Japanese Mary and Jesus are in a Kimono; The Mexican Mary and Jesus in a Huipil [ˈwipil]; The Indian Mary and Jesus in a Sari. Yet, regardless of their outward appearance, Jesus Christ in all of those images depicts the same Christ.
Through the Old Testament, we know Christ as Wisdom and as One of the Persons of the Trinity. We know Christ as the Word, through whom all things were created. (John 1:1) Through the events of the transfiguration in today’s Gospel, we understand that Jesus Christ is not merely the abstract idea but the incarnation and fulfillment of prophecy and the law. That is why Moses, who represents the Mosaic Law and Elijah, who represents the Prophets, appeared next to Jesus on Mt. Tabor. And this event was followed by God the Father’s voice being heard from the clouds confirming “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (v. 5) Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, who came and suffered for our sins for the penalty of sins and through his death on the cross, gives life to all. So why is this so important? Why can’t we merely say we believe in God?
My dear brothers and sisters, our faith has a deeper purpose then just a mere belief in a deity. A belief in some sort of cosmic power is not what we are called to have as Christians. Nor is our Christian faith only about acting kind or being nice to each other. Our Orthodox Christian faith is about being in communion with God. This means we are called to come into an understanding and become like our creator. In Genesis, God created humanity in His image and likeness. And this distinction of both is necessary because our Church Fathers teach us that, even though we sin we never lose our divine image but when we repent, our likeness is further revealed. Our purpose in life is not to be “good” but to grow in our likeness of God. However, if we do not know which God we confess or which God we believe in then we cannot be like God because all we will do is become some sort of a false idea of a god we create in our own understanding; a false god in our image, which will ultimately fail. But by knowing who Christ Jesus is, we know who God is and therefore, we can become like God, by being in communion through Christ Jesus.
My dears, in this world full of darkness and sickness we want to see love, we want to see peace, we want to see healing, yet, we are called to be love, peace and healing to this world. As the Church teaches, we need to see Christ in each other. By first knowing who Christ Jesus is, knowing His love, His hope, His passion and resurrection – we can begin seeing Christ in each other and begin recognizing those qualities of the divine in each other. By knowing who Christ is, we know how to see Christ in each other. This process of revelation and understanding begins with our baptism, through which our minds and hearts are illuminated and we begin our journey toward communion with God. Everyday we pray, every time we read scriptures, each time we repent of our sins the true image of who Christ is becomes clearer to us as we grow in our likeness to God. Each time we forgive, act mercifully, show compassion and live our lives according to God’s commandments – the true image of who Christ is becomes clearer in us.
Therefore, as we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord today, as we pray for God to bring healing and strength to our communities, families, friends, countries and us, give pause in prayer and ask our Heavenly Father to reveal Christ Jesus, His son to us. Because only by knowing the Son can we know His Father. Only by knowing our Father can we likewise, truly become His children of love, peace and hope in this world. Let us pray so that we will be transfigured through Christ. “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2 RSV) Amen!